Tony’s Coronavirus Notes – 12 Countries with no Covid-19 at all

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

There are a dozen countries where Covid-19 has yet to arrive, places where there have been zero Covid-19 cases and, therefore, zero Covid-19 deaths? Really?

◄ Given how much bad press the island group gets I was surprised how much I enjoyed my visit to Kiribati. It is a contender for ‘first to disappear’ status if global warming raises sea levels.

1. Kiribati
2. Marshall Islands
3. Micronesia
4. Nauru
5. North Korea
6. Palau
7. Samoa
8. Solomon Islands
9. Tonga
10. Turkmenistan
11. Tuvalu
12. Vanuatu

Of those 12 countries 10 are in the South Pacific and I’ve been to all of them apart from the Marshall Islands and Palau.

I visited Vanuatu less than a year ago, Kiribati in 2017, Tonga in 2014. Now if a country is coming up with remarkably good figures for coronavirus your first thought is ‘how good are the figures?’ After all there are lots of places in Africa where getting news out – let alone disease statistics – is a drawn out and problematic affair. These Pacific nations are remote, but they’re not hidden away, not out of touch with the outside world. If they insist there are no Covid-19 cases I’m inclined to believe them.

Indeed I’ve been in touch with a friend in Tonga and he insists all is well, except they’re totally cut off from the outside world. Zoe Stephens, who is from Britain, is stuck in Tonga and has been posting YouTube videos about her lockdown. There are assorted other Brits, New Zealanders and Americans also stuck in Tonga and unable to get out. It works both ways, this Tongan-British-New Zealand couple and their child were on their way back home to Tonga when the New Zealand-Tonga shutdown occurred and they’ve been stuck in Auckland ever since.

▲ Tonga – where I didn’t manage to go whale watching, swimming with the humpbacks is a big deal for Tonga visitors, but I was there at the wrong time of year.

Elsewhere in the South Pacific, four island groups – not counting the big ones, Australia and New Zealand – have had Covid-19 cases. Those four – French Polynesia, Fiji, New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea have had 130 cases between them and until a death in Papua New Guinea on 20 July zero deaths. In fact the PNG death may have been from cancer rather than Covid-19. Only 22 of those cases are still active, so there are less than two dozen people with Covid-19 in all the islands of the South Pacific. Amazing!

Then there are those two Asian countries with zero coronavirus cases. Now we don’t believe anything that comes out of North Korea so why should we believe they’ve kept the pandemic from arriving from China to the north or South Korea to the south? After all it was even rumoured that Kim Jong-un, Fatty 3 as the Chinese call him, actually was in the national-leaders-with-Covid-19 category, along with Bolsonaro of Brazil and Johnson of the UK. When I visited North Korea my travels were organized by Koryo Tours in Beijing and they have a website page about those virus-free countries. Zoe Stephens, that trapped-on-Tonga tour guide, worked with Koryo Tours.

◄ The (now deceased) Turkmenbashi, Saparmurat Niyazov, appointed himself ‘‘Head of the Turkmen,’ built enough white marble architecture to put Ashgabat at the top of The Guinness Book of Records white-marble rankings, banned listening to radios in cars, renamed the days of the week after his children and most important dotted the country with gold statues of himself, notably this rotating one on top of the Arch of Neutrality. Clearly he’s holding his arms out to keep Covid-19 away from Turkmenistan.

Perhaps it’s the ‘power of Juche’ which has kept Covid-19 out of North Korea, in which case it must be the ‘power of the Turkmenbashi’ which has done the same job for Turkmenistan.

I visited Turkmenistan in 2017 and decided it must be one of the weirdest countries I’d ever been to. Although perhaps not quite as weird as North Korea. Still its white-marble capital Ashgabat is definitely a cross between Pyongyang and Dubai, with a dash of Las Vegas on the side. So how likely is it that Turkmenistan has remained virus free? Let’s look at the figures for the three ‘stans’ and Iran which share land borders with Turkmenistan:

So how likely is it that not a single case of Covid-19 has crept across the borders into Turkmenistan from the more than 400,000 cases clustered around the reclusive country? The numbers could be much more than 400,000 because the Iranians are now saying they may have seriously undercounted their infection rate and how likely is it that the statistics for Afghanistan will be accurate when half the country is at war?

Certainly Radio Free Europe thinks that rather than non-existent the virus is ‘out of control’ in Turkmenistan. Human Rights Watch are also not great believers in anything on Covid-19 reported by the Turkmenistan government.